No charges recommended for Clermont day care owners after 9-month-old boy's death

Car seat, pneumonia were likely contributing factors

CLERMONT, Fla. – The state attorney's office won't file charges against the owners of a Clermont family day care where a 9-month-old died after being found unconscious in July, according to a memo from the Fifth Judicial State Attorney's Office.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office recommended charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child and tampering with evidence against the owners of Dodd Family Daycare, where Zachary Jackson was found in a car seat unconscious July 17, 2018. However, a memo to State Attorney Brad King's Office from an assistant state attorney shows the office did not find enough evidence to charge the couple.

"There is insufficient evidence in this case to establish beyond and to the exclusion of
every reasonable doubt that the actions of (the owners) caused the death of Zachary
Jackson," the state attorney wrote in the memo.

"They're broken all over again, as if his passing just happened again,” said Thomas Scolaro, the Jackson family’s attorney, in response to the decision. “To lose a child is unfathomable. … If he was looking like he was suffering from pneumonia, do you really think these childcare providers would have taken in a baby for day care with 12 or 13 other kids?”

To rewind, in November, the Lake County medical examiner ruled 9-month-old Zachary Jackson's death as undetermined.

According to the memo sent to King on Monday, the medical examiner said "this was a challenging case."

In the month before his death, Zachary was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and given antibiotics. He had almost identical symptoms in April, according to the memo.

"It is unclear if external factors contributed to the death, although consideration is given to the fact that the decedent was placed in a car seat in a residential setting which can be an unsafe sleep surface," according to the medical examiner's report, adding that "It is also my opinion that bilateral bronchopneumonia contributed to his demise."

Bronchopneumonia is a type of pneumonia that causes inflammation in the airways, which can cause trouble breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the state attorney's office, one of the co-owners told deputies he placed Zachary in the car seat for his nap because he was climbing on the play pen. When the owner came back into the room, Zachary was slumped over. He attempted CPR before taking the baby to CentraCare, deputies said.

The infant was transported to South Lake Hospital and airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando, where he died.

In September, Zachary's Jackson family hired Scolaro to investigate and potentially file a lawsuit against the Dodd Family Daycare, its owners and "anyone else responsible for Zachary's horrific death."

The Florida Department of Children and Families was also investigating the incident. As of two weeks ago, the child death investigation was still open. 

Zachary would have celebrated his first birthday in October.

"All we can do is tell the truth, we can't help what people think,” said someone who answered the door at Joseph and Debbie Dodd’s. “I mean, all we can do is tell the truth."

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